Definition of an Intern
In short, an intern is a student or recent graduate who undergoes supervised practical training. The following criteria distinguish interns from employees:
- Assigned work is integral to the student’s course of study
- Academic credit is given for the work or the work satisfies a graduation requirement
- Hired interns must prepare an evaluation of their experience and submit it to their faculty supervisor
- Employer receives written documentation from the college stating that it sponsors or approves the internship, and that the internship is academically relevant
- Learning objectives are clearly identified
- Interns may not perform work that existing employees perform
- Interns adhere to an apprentice model (often referred to as a "shadowing" learning mode)
- The employer ensures the intern learns a skill, process, or other business function, or instruction to operate equipment is provided
- The work performed offers educational value (i.e., the work is relevant to the intern’s academic courses)
- A designated, qualified staff member supervises the intern
Are Internships Paid?
This is a common question employers ask. We highly encourage employers to pay either minimum wage or a stipend (for travel to and from site, lunch, etc.). Design-related programs (Graphic Design, Interior Design, and Industrial Design and Architecture have separate guidelines and require payment.
The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has developed the following six criteria for identifying a learner/trainee (aka intern) whose work may be unpaid:
- The training, even though it includes actual operation of the employer’s facilities, is similar to training that would be given in a vocational training institute.
- The training is for the benefit of the intern.
- The intern does not displace regular employees, but rather works under the close observation of a regular employee.
- The employer provides the training and derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern. Occasionally, the training may actually impede the operations.
- The student is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the training period.
- The employer and the intern mutually understand the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent training.
Not all six criteria have to be present for a student to be considered a trainee; however, the experience must ultimately more closely resemble a training/learning experience than a job. If the position falls short of the above-listed criteria, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires employers to pay employees at least minimum wage for all hours of work performed.
Note: Employers commonly pay interns a stipend for their meals and travel costs, or to assist with tuition.
Establishing Credit-Based Internships
Students are eligible to receive credit for internships that have been documented through the Career Development Office or through the college's design-related program. Once selected, the student must meet with the faculty internship advisor and download the appropriate internship forms. Students are expected to take the internship packet to the internship site on or before their first day of work.
The forms must be completed, signed, and kept with the student until the internship requirements are completed.
At the end of the internship, the student and the host supervisor evaluate their experiences using the supplied evaluation forms.
The packet, including supporting work completed during the internship, is turned in to the internship advisor.
Note: A student who interns for credit may also be paid simultaneously by the host organization. Again, the position must meet the intern/trainee criteria listed above.
What Does the Internship Learning Contract Entail?
The contract outlines the basic work agreement between the intern and the employer—specifically the intern’s responsibilities, learning expectations, and scheduled work hours and days.
In the event the intern submits original material to be considered for development by the company, or any of that company’s affiliates or subsidiaries, the company must negotiate with the intern in good faith for the acquisition of rights in and to the original material.
Contact Career Development
Visit the Career Development resources area in 80 Carolina on the San Francisco campus to research creative careers and access key information. Be sure to read the student FAQ for additional information.
Please contact the Career Development Office at with any questions about our valuable services and how we can support you in working with our students.